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March 2015

Log in or become an RASNZ member to access this Southern Stars issue.

Possible Radio-emmision Signatures of Exoplanets
E Budding, O B Slee, M Johnston-Hollitt
A brief review of possibly detectable radio-effects from exoplanets is presented. Previous observations may show relevant effects, when appropriate theory is taken into account.  Pointers to contemporary and future lines of investigation are also presented.
Volume 54, number 1. March 2015. p3.
Graham Lindsay Blow 1954 to 2014
John Talbot and Brian Loader
It is with great sadness that we mark the death of Graham Blow on 31st December 2014 at the age of 60. He was born 5th August 1954 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Volume 54, number 1. March 2015. p7
Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (Inc) Annual Report for 2014
Volume 54, number 1. March 2015. p9

The people listed below have offered to talk to RASNZ Affiliated Societies. Note that the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund is available to help with costs so that speakers from around New Zealand can travel to your location.

Frank Andrews Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Wellington Astronomical Society
  • What is time that we should be mindful of it?
  • The life history of stars and planetary systems
  • Studying the Universe in four dimensions
Steve Butler Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (03) 215 7968 Southland Astronomical Society
  • Dark sky
  • Good lighting
Steve Chadwick Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Mobile: 021-054-8647 Horowhenua Astronomical Society
Grant Christie Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Mobile: 021-024-04992 Auckland Astronomical Society
John Drummond (MSc – Astronomy)

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: 0275 609 287.

Gisborne Astronomical Society.
  • Astrophotography – a range of topics
  • Deeply imaging interacting galaxies
  • Comets and meteors
  • A range of other topics – or let me know if you want a specific one...
John Dunlop Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (03) 213 1348 Southland Astronomical Society
  • From horses to telescopes
  • Astronomical research at Farm Cove Observatory
  • Fire in the Sky: The 1999 Taranaki Daylight Fireball
Richard Hall Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phoenix Astronomical Society
Jennie McCormick Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (09) 576 9815 Auckland Astronomical Society
John Talbot Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (04) 293 4620 Wellington Astronomical Society
  • Occultation Observing
  • The Comprehensible Cosmos
  • God: The Failed Hypothesis
  • Life in the Universe
  • Exploration of Space
  • Nothing happens for a reason
Glenn Urquhart Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Mobile: 027-4535120 Auckland Astronomical Society

First: thank you for registering on the RASNZ web site. For RASNZ members this is the first step toward gaining access to the RASNZ Members only area of the site. The next step is that the site administrators will notice your registration and add you to the Members group - as a RASNZ member you don't need to do anything more. This will usually happen within a day, but may occasionally take longer if our membership officer is not available. If the process is taking too long and you are anxious to get access to Southern Stars please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. who will get it sorted for you pending confirmation by the membership officer.

If you aren't yet a member of RASNZ we don't yet offer much "extra" on the site, although we are thinking about what we can provide for you. If you have ideas about what you would like to see please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we'll see what we can do for you. Otherwise you might consider joining the society. See Glen Rowe's article outlining the benefits of membership.

Anyway, have a fun, inspiring and educational time visiting our site and please let us know what you like or would like to see improved.

The Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund was set up under the will of the late Julie Annie Tomlinson of Nelson for the purposes of promoting the study of astronomy in New Zealand. The fund is a memorial to William Tomlinson of St Peter's School, York, (grandfather of Julie Tomlinson) and William Tomlinson (Julie Tomlinson's father), both of whom were Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society, and were connected by marriage with Sir Isaac Newton.

Applications may be made for any projects or ventures which promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Council of the RASNZ considers each application in accordance with the objectives of the Trust Deed and makes recommendations to the Trustees of the Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund accordingly. The Trustees of the Fund have the final decision as to whether or not a grant is made.

Applications will normally only be considered from members of RASNZ, its Affiliated Societies, recognised amateur astronomers in New Zealand or students of astronomy at recognised institutions.

Applications should be made on the official application form which can be obtained from the Executive Secretary of RASNZ from whom further information is available. Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Fund:

This fund is available only for use by Affiliated Societies and RASNZ members and exists to sponsor the visits of lecturers or instructors in astronomy to regions throughout New Zealand. Grants from this fund are made to pay all, or a proportion, of the cost of the lecturer's travel expenses. This scheme makes available to local societies quality speakers who would otherwise be unavailable for financial reasons.

RASNZ maintains a list of speakers which may be used by Affiliated Societies when looking for speakers on various astronomical topics.

Conditions applying to grants from the Gifford-Eiby fund

The benefits of the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund are available to any Affiliated Society or group of RASNZ members that can guarantee an attendance of at least twenty people at any lecture or at least four people at any instructional class organised under the scheme.

Lecturers appointed are to be known as Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lecturers of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, and are to be so identified by the Chairman at meetings and in all publicity of the meetings.

RASNZ pays part or all of the return fares by public transport for distances up to 800 km each way. Reasonable incidental travel expenses for the lecturer may be met by the Gifford-Eiby fund on receipt of a report and account of expenditure by the lecturer. These are based on public transport costs. Receipts and/or ticket stubs should be presented.

Affiliated Societies benefitting agree to:

  1. provide accommodation of a standard acceptable to the lecturer.
  2. pay the cost of any travel in excess of 800 km.
  3. acknowledge at any Gifford-Eiby supported lecture the Gifford-Eiby Lectureship Scheme and the RASNZ during the introduction to the talk and in any publicity advertising the talk. A suitable acknowledgement would be:
    "This lecture is being brought to you with the assistance of the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Scheme administered by the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand."

    This acknowledgement should be preceded by a short introduction of the lecturer and their field of expertise.

Applications should be made on the official application form as early as possible, preferably at least three months prior to the intended date of the lecture. Applications forms can be obtained from the Executive Secretary, RASNZ from whom further information is available. Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Murray Geddes Memorial Prize

Murray Geddes The Murray Geddes Memorial Prize is awarded by the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand to a person or persons for contributions to astronomy in New Zealand. The award is usually made annually. The recipient of the prize must be a New Zealand resident but need not be a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. Normally a person may only receive the award once.

RASNZ By-laws governing the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize

  1. The Murray Geddes Memorial Prize shall be awarded to a person or persons at intervals of not more than five years, nor less than one year, for contributions to astronomy in New Zealand.
  2. The recipient of the prize shall be a resident of New Zealand and need not be a member of the Society.
  3. Only in exceptional circumstances shall the award be made to the same person more than once.
  4. Council may annually, at such time as it may decide, invite nominations for the prize from whatever sources it deems appropriate. Nominations shall remain valid for three years from the date of nomination. Additional information in support of a nomination may be accepted during the three years.
  5. Council shall have the sole decision in making the award and its decision shall be made not less than two months before the date of the Annual General Meeting.
  6. The prize shall consist of goods to a value which Council shall from time to time decide, and shall be presented with a certificate suitably inscribed with the recipient's name and the signature of the President, or Vice President. The prize and certificate shall be presented, whenever possible, at the Annual General Meeting.
  7. The name of each new recipient shall be published in the Journal of the Society.

Past Murray Geddes Memorial Prize recipients.

1945 Mr A F Jones
1946 Mr D L Snelling
1947 Mr R D Adams
1948 Mr G G Couling
1949 Mr D C Berry and Mr J Stitchbury
1950 Mr F M Bateson
1951 Miss J Grey and Mr D A Philpott
1952 Mr G T Railton
1953 Mr M Hedges
1954 Mr W D Anderson
1955 Mr R F Joyce
1956 Mr R B Orton
1957 Mr L R H Beaumont
1958 Mr J G Gow
1959 Mr A J Doig and Mr T J Richards
1960 Mr K D Adams
1961 Mr W H Ward
1962 Mr A C Gilmore
1963 Mr E L Morley
1964 Dr C D Ellyet
1965 Mr C B Michie
1966 Mr P A Read
1967 Mr A J Thomas
1968 Mr C P Fisk
1969 Mr C H Rowe
1970 Dr P J Edwards
1971 Mr B F Marino and Mr W S G Walker
1972 Mr W J H Fisher
1973 Mr M Clark and Mr G R Nankivell
1974 Mr G S Smith
1975 Mr G Hall-Jones
1976 Mr L A C Warner
1977 Mr & Mrs W S Thrush
1978 no award
1979 Mr J E Morgan and Mr J H Duthie
1980 Mr F P Andrews
1981 Mr W H Allen
1982 Ms P M Kilmartin
1983 Mr G L Blow
1984 Mr R R D Austin
1985 Dr J B Hearnshaw
1986 Mr D J MacLennan
1987 Mr G S Smith
1988 Mr J D Whelan
1989 Mr Jack Dunlop (Napier) and Mr G Loftus
1990 Mr R N Campbell
1991 Mr H Williams
1992 Mr R McIntosh
1993 Mr R Sutherland
1994 Mr R Evans
1995 Mr A Dodson
1996 Mr G Hudson
1997 Dr J Baggaley
1998 no award
1999 Mr N Rumsey
2000 Mrs P A and Mr B R Loader
2001 Mr D Goodman
2002 Ms Marilyn Head
2003 Mr M Bos
2004/5 Dr Albert and Mrs Carolyn Jones
2006 Ms Jennie McCormick
2007 Mr R Rea
2008 No award
2009 Mr R Hall
2010 Mr S Butler
2011 Mr M Collins
2012 Mr. Stuart Parker
2013 Dr. Grant Christie
2014 Mr. Chris Monigatti

The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.


1. Dark Sky Award 2014
2. Notice of AGM
3. Notice of a Meeting of the Affiliated Societies Committee
4. Southern Eclipsing Binaries
5. The Solar System in April
6. 2015 RASNZ Conference
7. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)
8. 2014 Conference CD - Can You Help Us?
9. Astro Pics on the Web
10. Observatory and/or Telescope for Sale
11. Mt John History Published
12. Star Fly-Bys
13. New Asteroid Detection Software Available
14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
15. How to Join the RASNZ
16. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
17. Quote

1. Dark Sky Award 2014

After a hiatus in 2013, a pleasing number of good entries were received for the RASNZ Dark Sky Award at the 2014 IESANZ (Illuminating Engineering Society of Australia and New Zealand) Lighting Awards. Entries of a high standard were submitted from projects at industrial sites, sport facilities, bridges and public spaces. The lighting designs were imaginative and sympathetic to the needs of the local area, with more frequent use of luminaires in the lower colour temperature range.

It was good to see a number had applied international lighting standards to achieve a night sky-friendly outcome, including compliance with IDA standards and the IESNA BUG (Backlight - Uplight - Glare) system. The Winner of the RASNZ Dark Sky Award for 2014 was awarded to the Opera House Lane (OHL) project in Wellington. Lighting design was by Stephenson & Turner NZ Ltd for Wellington City Council.

Very creative solutions for a rather depressing and demanding space have produced a fun and spontaneous night time walkway. Talking with the designer following the award, Pontus Hammarbäck expressed how dark skies are important to him, having grown up in northern Sweden at a latitude of 63°N, just 4° from the Arctic Circle.

The inspired implementation of lighting triggered by people moving through the lane, in tandem with lighting timer controls and good lamp selection, minimises the overall required illumination leading to low energy consumption. The OHL lighting can also be used as part of independent events.

Future implementation of reduced light levels during low usage periods has been addressed with installation of Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI).

Opera House Lane has been transformed into an inviting thoroughfare with the safety that good CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) provides. Tagging and vandalism has been virtually eliminated.

The design shows attention to detail in choice of shielding and positioning of luminaires, and has resisted the temptation to light the whole height of the adjoining buildings. The night sky has been protected, with negligible light spill to neighbouring properties. Feedback from residents about their new lane has been enthusiastic.

-- David Britten

2. Notice of AGM

The 92nd Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand will be held at about 4:30 pm on Saturday the 9th of May 2015 in the Community Hall at Tekapo. Notices of Motion are invited and should reach the Executive Secretary six weeks in advance of the meeting, by 28 March 2015. They should be sent in writing to: -- Rory O'Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

3. Notice of a Meeting of the Affiliated Societies Committee

The Affiliated Societies Committee will meet on Friday the 8th of May 2015 at the Community Hall in Tekapo. This meeting is normally attended by the Presidents of Affiliated Societies or their nominated representative. Notices of Motion for the meeting are invited and should reach the Executive Secretary by March 28, 2015. -- Rory O'Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

4. Southern Eclipsing Binaries

Variable Star South (VSS) has a research programme on Southern Eclipsing Binaries (EB) which has been running since 2011. A list of about 150 target stars was assembled and a number of southern binaries have had their light elements determined as part of this programme. The information has been assembled in a research paper that gives details on 78 southern EB stars. The lead author, Margaret Streamer, has announced that the paper has been accepted by the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) and is published in JAAVSO 292. The preprint can be accessed by using the link http://www.aavso.org/ejaavso in your browser. The paper title and abstract is: Revised Light Elements of 78 Southern Eclipsing Binary Systems Since 2011, members of Variable Stars South have undertaken intensive time series observations and analysis of eclipsing binary systems, most of which are south of declination -40°. Many of them have not been observed in detail since their discovery 50 to 80 years ago. New or revised light elements are presented here for 60 systems and revised O-C values for a further 18 systems. A pulsating component has been discovered in four of the binary systems: RZ Mic, V632 Sco, V638 Sco, and LT Her.

-- Alan Baldwin

5. The Solar System in April

NZDT ends on the morning of Sunday 5 April, clocks being set back an hour at 3am.

Dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 hours) up to April 4 and NZST (UT + 12 hours) from April 5 unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in april

                     April  1  NZDT                 April 30  NZST    
                    morning  evening               morning  evening   
           rise:   7.33am,  set: 7.15pm     rise: 7.03am,  set: 5.31pm
 Civil:    starts: 7.08am, ends: 7.41pm   starts: 6.38am, ends: 5.58pm
 Nautical: starts: 6.36am, ends: 8.13pm   starts: 6.05am, ends: 6.31pm
 Astro:    starts: 6.04am, ends: 8.45pm   starts: 5.33am, ends: 7.03pm

April PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

  Full moon:     April  5 at  1.06 am (Apr  4, 12:06 UT)
  Last quarter:  April 12 at  3.44 pm (        03:44 UT)
  New moon:      April 19 at  6.57 am (Apr 18, 18:57 UT)
  First quarter: April 26 at 11.55 am (Apr 25, 23:55 UT)

Total eclipse of moon.

The moon will be totally eclipsed on the night of April 4 to 5. The entire event is visible from New Zealand and from eastern and central Australia. From Perth in Western Australia the moon rises about 15 minutes before the start of the initial umbral phase. The total phase of the eclipse is very short, lasting 7 minutes 21 seconds from 12:56:55 am to 1:04:16 am NZDT (11:56:55 to 12:04:16 UT). The northern limb of the moon is only just inside the umbra at totality, so is likely to remain quite brightly lit.

The moon enters the umbra at 11:15:30 pm and leaves it again at 2:46:16 NZDT. The penumbral phases, during which little change in the moon will be noticed, starts at 10:01:07 pm and ends 3:59:29 am NZDT. Note that strictly NZDT reverts to NZST at 3:00 am, before the end of the eclipse.

The planets

Mercury, Mars and Uranus are all too close to the Sun to observe. Venus gets a little higher in the evening sky, Jupiter is prominent in the first part of the evening but gets low by late evening setting just before midnight by the 30th. Saturn is best viewed late evening and through the morning before sunrise.

Mercury is at superior conjunction with the Sun on April 10 at about 3 pm. Following conjunction Mercury will become an evening object. By the end of April it will set some 45 minutes after the Sun, so is not likely to be visible.

At conjunction Mercury will be 200 million km from the Earth, 50 million km beyond the Sun. At its closest it would appear to be just over half a degrees from the southern limb of the Sun, an angle about equal to the Sun's apparent diameter.

Venus gets a little higher in the western sky following sunset during April. On the 1st it sets some 90 minutes after the Sun, increasing to just over 2 hours later on the 30th. Even so Venus will be fairly low to the northwest soon after sunset.

The planet starts the month in Aries, moving into Taurus on the 7th. On the 11th and 12th it will be about 2.5° above the Pleiades. By the end of April Venus will be 3° from the star beta Tau, magnitude 1.7

The crescent moon will be a few degrees from Venus on the evenings of the 21st and 22nd of April. The moon will be to the left of the planet on first evening and above it the following evening.

Mars sets 45 minutes after the Sun on April 1; only half an hour after later on the 30th. With a magnitude 1.4 it is not likely to be visible. Following sunset, Mars will be in a direction about half way round from west to northwest.

Jupiter will be easily visible during the earlier part of the evening but will get low by late evening early in the month and by mid evening at the end of April. By then it will set just before midnight.

During April the planet is in Cancer. It is stationary on the 9th so shows very little change in position relative to the stars all month. On the 26th the moon, just past first quarter, will be some 6° to the left of Jupiter, the moon getting slightly closer to the planet as the evening progresses.

Mutual events of jovian satellites

There are about 10 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during April. Now Jupiter is visible in the evening sky, some of these take place at a more convenient time. They include:

April 2, Callisto occults Ganymede mid event ca 10.48pm NZDT (9:48 UT). The two merge ~10 minutes earlier and separate ~10 minutes later. The two moons will be well out from Jupiter with Europa between them and the planet. Io will not be visible, being in eclipse in Jupiter's shadow. April 3, Io eclipses Europa. Maximum eclipse at 11.09pm (10:09 UT) The eclipse lasts in all 5 minutes, the magnitude change is 0.7. Europa will be close to Jupiter's limb, Io a little further out. April 8, Ganymede occults Callisto, mid event 8.08 pm NZST (08:08 UT) The occultation lasts some 6.5 minutes in all. The two moons will be some distance from Jupiter with Io and Europa on the other side of the planet. April 23, Europa occults Io, mid event ~8.18 pm. The occultation lasts some 3.3 minutes in all. Io and Europa will be about 1.5 Jupiter diameters from the planet, Ganymede and Callisto will be further out on the same side of Jupiter. April 27, Ganymede occults Callisto, mid event ~10.13 pm. This is a fairly long occultation lasting some 25 minutes in all. The two moons will be several diameters from Jupiter with Io between them and the planet. Europa will be on the opposite side of Jupiter

Useful observations and timings of these events can be made by those set up for the video observation of minor planet occultations.

Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions of these and other events. Hristo Pavlov's Occult Watcher programme will also list them and has diagrams showing the satellites relative to Jupiter. Details can also be found on the IMCCE web site, http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/ where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available.

Saturn rises at 9.39 pm on April 1, 6.41 pm, 70 minutes after sunset, on April 30. The planet is in Scorpius moving slowly to the west. By the end of April it will be just over a degree from beta1 Scorpii (mag 2.6) and a little under 10° from Antares.

On the 8th the 86% lit moon will be less than 3° from Saturn, the two being closest about 1am on the 9th.

At present Saturn's north pole is tilted 25° towards the Earth. This brings the northern surface of the rings well into view. They should be visible in binoculars, although a small telescope is likely to give a better view.

Outer planets

Uranus is at conjunction with the Sun on April 7. Consequently it is close to the Sun all month and not likely to be observable. After conjunction Uranus becomes a morning object. By the end of April it will rise nearly 2 hours before the Sun.

Neptune is a morning object during April. It rises about two and three quarter hours before the Sun on the 1st and just over 5 hours earlier than the Sun on the 30th. It is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9

During April Neptune is overtaken by the faster moving asteroid Vesta. The two are closest on the morning of April 17 when Vesta, magnitude 8.0, will be 2.6° to the upper right of Neptune.

Pluto is in Sagittarius rising near 12.30 am on the 1st and nearly 2 hours earlier on the 30th. Its magnitude is 14.4.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Capricornus with magnitude 9.1. During the month it moves to the east across Capricornus. On the 1st it rises about 1.20 am. By the 30th it will be rising late evening just before 11 pm.

(4) Vesta is also a morning object, at 8.0 it is a magnitude brighter than Ceres. Vesta will be in Aquarius rising just after 4 am on the 1st and a little before 2.30 am on the 30th. It passes Neptune mid April.

-- Brian Loader

6. 2015 RASNZ Conference

Dear Friends, Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to announce that the next conference of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) will be held at Lake Tekapo from 8th-10th May 2015. Our guest speakers will be Professors Gerry Gilmore (University of Cambridge) and Edward Guinan (Villanova University), and the Fellows Lecture for 2015 will be delivered by Associate Professor Karen Pollard from Canterbury University. Titles and abstracts for these talks will be released when they are available.

For further information on the RASNZ conference and registration please visit the conference website at http://www.rasnz.org.nz/groups-news-events/rasnz-conference . The conference will be preceded by a two day symposium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mount John University Observatory - see http://www.phys.canterbury.ac.nz/mtjohn50/ for registration information and other details of this meeting. Immediately after the conference the Ninth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will also be held at the Godley Hotel, Lake Tekapo on 11th-12th May. For details see http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm. Note that registrations for TTSO9 can ONLY be made through the RASNZ Conference registration page.

The RASNZ standing conference committee invites and encourages anyone interested in New Zealand Astronomy to submit papers, with titles and abstracts due 1st April 2015. The link to the paper submission form can be found on the RASNZ conference website given above, or you can go to http://www.rasnz.org.nz/groups-news-events/submit-conference-paper Please note that you MUST be registered for the conference to make a presentation. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

We look forward to receiving your submission and seeing you at conference.

Please feel free to forward this message to anyone who may find this of interest.

Sincerely yours, Warwick Kissling, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

7. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)

The RASNZ Occultation Section is pleased to announce that the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will be held at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, over 11-12 May 2015. Comprehensive information about the meeting is available here:


The meeting will immediately follow the 2015 RASNZ Conference and the Mt John Observatory 50th Anniversary Symposium. Because attendance at all these meetings is expected to be high, accommodation space in Tekapo is likely to be limited. If you plan to attend any of these meetings we recommend that you book your accommodation early.

-- Murray Forbes.

8. 2014 Conference CD - Can You Help Us?

It is with some embarrassment that we must acknowledge that the CD from last year's conference has not yet been produced and distributed.

The files have been selected but they need to be assembled and linked to a wrapper page to make them easily accessible, written to discs and distributed to conference attendees.

Are you able to undertake this task for us? The cost of the discs, mailers and postage will be met by the Conference account. We are asking for your time and expertise to complete this task. Please contact the Standing Conference Committee via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - we'd love to hear from you.

-- Glen Rowe, Chair, SCC

9. Astro Pics on the Web

Dark Energy Camera Takes Accidental Gigantic, Magnificent Picture of Comet Lovejoy http://www.universetoday.com/119192/dark-energy-camera-takes-accidental-gigantic-magnificent-picture-of-comet-lovejoy/ Pointed out by Thomas Waite.

A Smiling Gravitational Lens from Hubble! http://www.nasa.gov/content/hubble-sees-a-smiling-lens/#.VNorXC5dtD4 Passed on by Karen Pollard

10. Observatory and/or Telescope for Sale

A 4 metre square observatory building; domed roof with separately opening shutters and motorised dome movement. Wiring for phone, electricity and stereo. Can fit 12 school kids plus one astronomer. Internal and external lighting and professional signage. Built in sections for large screen TV & AV, work, library & display areas. Built in 2006 by qualified builder (now a building inspector).

Has 15-inch equatorially-mounted tracking telescope with ARGO Navis 'go to' capability. Has viewing ladder/Platform built to OSH requirements by local engineers.

All componentry of the observatory and telescope have been built with public viewing and demonstration in mind; all workings (e.g. drive, motor, etc) are visible behind plexiglass/protective wire.

See http://www.trademe.co.nz/Browse/Listing.aspx?id=855374006 Enquiries to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Facebook: Astronomy Adventures

11. Mt John History Published

A celebration of half a century of optical astronomy at New Zealand´s premier astronomical research facility is the focus of a new book published by Canterbury University Press (CUP) this month.

Mt John - the first 50 years: A celebration of half a century of optical astronomy at the University of Canterbury looks at the history of one of the most beautiful astronomical observatories in the world, Mt John University Observatory at Tekapo.

Authors Professor John Hearnshaw and Alan Gilmore explore the turbulent history, funding shortfalls, student demonstrations and, on one occasion, a fire during the first 50 years of the Mt John University Observatory.

The observatory opened in 1965 and was founded at Lake Tekapo in the Mackenzie Basin. The work carried out at Mt John, especially in stellar astronomy, is known and respected around the world.

"I hope the book provides an engrossing and enthralling account of the development of an iconic New Zealand scientific institution," says Hearnshaw, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Canterbury. "There were personality battles, funding shortfalls, a student demonstration and even a destructive fire to contend with as the observatory grew in size and importance."

Astronomical research has thrived at Mt John over the past 50 years, and in the last decade astro-tourism has taken off. Mt John is now both a research observatory and a mecca for stargazing astro-tourists, who come to see the pristine landscape and the amazing dark night skies.

"In the past decade, Mt John and the Mackenzie region have become prominent in astro-tourism. They are both recognised as places to visit to see the natural night sky," says Gilmore.

"There is an interest in the observatory´s origins and development. It is also a tourist route and receives several hundred visitors a day." The book is richly illustrated with almost 200 images, many of them outstanding landscape and nightscape photographs taken by the acclaimed Tekapo photographer Fraser Gunn. release.

12. Star Fly-Bys

A red dwarf and its brown dwarf companion buzzed through the outer Oort Cloud some 70,000 years ago, around the time when modern humans began migrating from Africa into Eurasia.

Most of space is empty. So in a galaxy bustling with hundreds of billions of stars, there´s too high a separation between them for any physical run-ins. Even close encounters are few and far between. But studies of a nearby, low-mass star hiding among the confusion of the galaxy´s disk shows that space might be a little less empty than previously thought.

A year ago, astronomer Eric Mamajek (University of Rochester) heard about a faint star, while chatting with his colleague. This star, nicknamed Scholz´s star, sparked his interest: it was close - only 20 light-years away - yet its proper motion was surprisingly slow, meaning that it inched sluggishly across the sky. That doesn´t mean that the star isn´t moving, just that much of its movement is hidden in its radial velocity, the motion along our line of sight. It became clear that the star had recently passed close to the Solar System and was now moving rapidly away.

The star´s proper motion along the plane of the sky can only be measured by waiting long enough for the star to change its position appreciably. Luckily, images as far back as a photographic plate from 1955 had serendipitously captured the star. Between 1955 and 2014, the star had moved roughly 6 arcseconds. (For comparison, your little finger held up to the sky at arm's length covers a full degree, or 3600 arcseconds.)

Burgasser´s team measured the star´s parallax - that tiny back-and- forth motion we see as Earth moves from one end of its orbit to the other - to give the star´s current distance. And spectroscopy showed the slight Doppler shift in the star´s spectral lines as it moves away from us, providing the star´s radial velocity. Most surprisingly, Burgasser´s team showed that Scholz´s star, a red M-class star, actually has a smaller brown dwarf companion.

With all the pieces of the puzzle, Mamajek and his colleagues were able to trace all the possible paths Scholz´s star may have taken. The team simulated 10,000 orbits for the star to take into account the uncertainties in the star´s position, distance and velocity, as well as the effect of Milky Way´s gravitational field. Of all those simulations, 98 percent show that the star had passed through the outer Oort Cloud. Its closest approach was probably between 0.6 and 1.2 light-years away, when it scraped the Oort Cloud 70,000 years ago at 83 km per second.

Until now, the top candidate for the closest flyby had been the so- called "rogue star" HIP 85605, discovered by Coryn Bailer-Jones (Max Planck Institute of Astronomy) in a study that analysed the trajectories of 50,000 nearby stars. That star was predicted to pass 0.13 to 0.65 light-years from our Sun in 240,000 to 470,000 years. Mamajek and his colleagues, however, demonstrated that the original distance to HIP 85605 was likely underestimated by a factor of ten. At its more likely distance, its newly calculated trajectory would not bring it within the Oort Cloud at all.

Bailer-Jones agrees with the team´s assessment of the rogue star. But he also warns that even though Scholz´s star currently holds the record, it doesn´t hold it by much. A second star, known as Gliese 710, has a more precisely calculated trajectory that shows it flying by almost as close as Scholz´s star. Both close approaches come within each other´s uncertainties.

Nonetheless, the discovery of another close-pass star proves an interesting point. "This is by no means a statistical survey," says Mamajek. But, he continues, it´s an example of what are likely many more undiscovered nearby stars, whose trajectories might bring them close to the Sun.

The European Space Agency recently launched the Gaia satellite to map out the distances and velocities of billions of stars, bringing low mass stars into focus.

Close encounters could perturb comets in the Oort cloud, shaking them up and sending them our way. "But there is no need to worry," says coauthor Henri Boffin (European Space Observatory). "Even if the Oort cloud was perturbed, it takes millions of years for a comet in the cloud to reach the Earth."


Adam Burgasser et al. " WISE J072003.20-084651.2: An Old and Active M9.5 + T5 Spectral Binary 6 pc from the Sun." Astrophysical Journal. February 19, 2015.

Eric Mamajek et al. "The Closest Known Flyby of a Star to the Solar System." Astrophysical Journal Letters. February 12, 2015.

- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/stars-closest-flyby-sun/?et_mid=728771&rid=246399573#sthash.PBFLYVym.dpuf

13. New Asteroid Detection Software Available

A software application based on an algorithm created by a NASA challenge has the potential to increase the number of new asteroid discoveries by amateur astronomers. Analysis of images taken of our solar system's main belt asteroids between Mars and Jupiter using the algorithm showed a 15 percent increase in positive identification of new asteroids.

NASA has released a desktop software application http://topcoder.com/asteroids, developed by NASA in partnership with Planetary Resources, Inc., of Redmond, Washington. The application is based on an Asteroid Data Hunter-derived algorithm that analyses images for potential asteroids. It's a tool that can be used by amateur astronomers and citizen scientists.

The Asteroid Data Hunter challenge was part of NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge. The data hunter contest series, which was conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources under a Space Act Agreement, was announced at the 2014 South by Southwest Festival and concluded in December. The series offered a total of $55,000 in awards for participants to develop significantly improved algorithms to identify asteroids in images captured by ground-based telescopes. The winning solutions of each piece of the contest combined to create an application using the best algorithm that increased the detection sensitivity, minimized the number of false positives, ignored imperfections in the data, and ran effectively on all computer systems.

The data hunter challenge incorporated data provided by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and images provided by the Catalina Sky Survey, an astronomical survey project run by the University of Arizona, Tucson, and focused on the discovery and study of near-Earth asteroids and comets.

Astronomers find asteroids by taking images of the same place in the sky and looking for star-like objects that move between frames, an approach that has been used since before Pluto was discovered in 1930. With more telescopes scanning the sky, the ever-increasing volume of data makes it impossible for astronomers to verify each detection by hand. This new algorithm gives astronomers the ability to use computers to autonomously and rapidly check the images and determine which objects are suitable for follow up, which leads to finding more asteroids than previously possible.

The desktop software application is free and can be used on any basic desktop or laptop computer. Amateur astronomers may take images from their telescopes and analyse them with the application. The application will tell the user whether a matching asteroid record exists and offer a way to report new findings to the Minor Planet Center, which then confirms and archives new discoveries.

For the full text and image see: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/march/new-desktop-application-has-potential-to-increase-asteroid-detection-now-available/

-- abridged from a NASA press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Applications are now invited for grants from the Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund. The application should reach the Secretary by 1 May 2015. There will be a secondary round of applications later in the year. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697.

15. How to Join the RASNZ

RASNZ membership is open to all individuals with an interest in astronomy in New Zealand. Information about the society and its objects can be found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-benefits A membership form can be either obtained from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by completing the online application form found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-application Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

16. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

17. Quote

"...But this popular conception of how scientific work is supported by government is completely false. Waste is the result of control being excessive, not of its being absent. The modern fallacy is to imagine that an elected Conservative of Socialist can decide on a line of research then leave the scientist to work out the details. No king or minister could have instructed Newton to discover the law of gravity, for they did not know and could not have known that there was any such law to discover. No Treasury official told Fleming to discover penicillin. Nor was Rutherford instructed to split the atom by a certain date, for no politician of his day and scarcely any other scientist would have known what such an achievement would imply or what purpose it would serve. Discoveries are not made like that. They are the result, as often as not, of someone wandering off his own line of research, attracted by some phenomenon hitherto unnoticed or suddenly seen in a new light. Nowadays, when one country lags scientifically behind another equally prosperous country, the most probable reason is that the government has been telling its scientists what they are to discover. This means, in other words, that too much money has been allocated to scientific projects and too little to abstract science. The more resources have been devoted to projects the politician can understand -- that is, to the development of discoveries already made and publicized -- the fewer resources are available for discoveries which are now inconceivable in so much as they have not yet been made. The law which should govern scientific progress is that for every sum spent on a named project, a proportionate sum should be spent on science as such -- that is on University Science Faculties which are free to do as they like."

-- C. Northcote Parkinson in "The Law and the Profits", 1963 edition, p.128-9.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6817
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

RASNZ Electronic Newsletter March 2015

What does the Royal Astronomical Society do and what are the benefits of joining?

The RASNZ Annual Report is a good place to get a full summary of what the Society does.

Members receive 11 monthly e-mails and 4 issues of the Southern Stars which members may download from the member's area of the website.

Whilst an individual member may benefit from only some of the following, your support of the Society will enable it to remain viable so it can continue to provide services at a national level without which astronomy in New Zealand would be so much the poorer.

The Society's premier event each year is the Annual RASNZ Conference, this provides a valuable opportunity to showcase the latest research by our professional astronomers alongside presentations on a wide variety of topics.

The Society's web-site is a valuable resource for astronomical information, given that it gets nearly 250,000 visits per year it would appear that it is very popular. The web-site has recently had a major upgrade and now provides special areas for members use and areas to facilitate the running of the society and its various activities.

The society's member body status with the Royal Society provides the opportunity as required to comment on astronomical related matters at both the government level and internationally through the International Astronomical Union.

RASNZ is fortunate to have access to the Kingdon-Tomlinson Bequest. Through this, many individual and societies have benefited from grants made to assist with equipment purchases and projects that promote astronomy in NZ.

We also have two lectureship schemes. The Gifford-Eiby covers travel expenses for speakers to travel within NZ to present a lecture or run a workshop to a society or group of members. A more recent initiative is the RASNZ Lecture Trust which enables an international astronomer to be brought to NZ to deliver a number of Beatrice-Tinsley Lectures.

We encourage our affiliated societies to take advantage of the services we offer as a way of providing additional resources/opportunities to benefit their members. For example, during 2012 the society sourced and distributed safe solar viewers for unaided viewing of the Transit of Venus and a partial eclipse of the Sun.

The Society has a number of sections (Variable Stars, Occultations, Comet & Meteors, Aurora & Solar, Astrophotography) that support and encourage their members' observational endeavours and interests.

In addition there are three groups that promote other initiatives. The Professional Astronomers' Group attends to the needs of the professional community within NZ. Indeed one of the special strengths of the RASNZ is its strong relationship with our professional astronomers. The Education Group is developing plans to increase an awareness of astronomy within both the educational and public arenas. The Dark Sky Group is working hard to promote the benefits of minimising light pollution and preserving our wonderful night skies. RASNZ is providing support to the initiative to have a Starlight Reserve designated in the Tekapo area and also for the International Starlight Conference being held there in June of this year.

I hope that this summary gives some idea of what a member "gets" in return for their subscription. Just as the advertisement for a certain card says, some of these benefits are priceless.

The sections and groups of the RASNZ cater for people with similar observing or other astronomy related interests. For further information about a particular section please contact the director of the section at the addresses given below.
Astrobiology Group Astrophotgraphy Comet and Meteor Dark Sky Group
Education Group Occultation Professional Astronomers Group Space Weather
Variable Stars

Astrobiology Group

The Astrobiology Group of the RASNZ has been formed to encourage, help, collect and publish astrobiology research from New Zealand.

Astrobiology, is the study of life’s potential in the Universe. It also studies the origin, evolution and history of life on Earth. Astrobiology is a topical subject, innovative and interdisciplinary.

Astrobiology unites physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, molecular biology, ecology, planetary science, geography, and geology to study “anything and everything about life on Earth in order to understand how life might arise and survive elsewhere in the Universe”.

New Zealand is considered by international astrobiology practitioners to be an excellent field site. For example, there are unique extremophiles in the hot springs in Rotorua, Lake Taupo area and we can easily access the KT Boundary or the Dry Valleys in Antarctica. There is a network of scientists throughout New Zealand with excellent credentials in most of the interdisciplinary fields which make astrobiology. Their skills in microbiology, ecology, biosecurity, physics, astronomy, radio astronomy and geology, only to count a few, represent an accessible yet rich knowledge base, with local expertise. You do not have to be a RASNZ member to be part of the Astrobiology Group but we would encourage you to do so and support the great work of the Society.

Web site:

Astrobiology New Zealand is the official web presence of the group. You may also subscribe to the mailing list from the site.


Haritina Mogoșanu 31
E Patanga Crescent,


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Astrophotography Section

Director: John Drummond
21 Marion Drive,
New Zealand

Email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The formation of the section reflects the large increase in interest in astronomical imaging which has developed recently and is open to all who have an interest in this field.

Anyone interested in joining the section should contact the director by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by post for further information.

Comet and Meteor

Director: John Drummond
21 Marion Drive

Email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

RASNZ Dark Sky Group

Contact: Mr Steve Butler
30 Hoffman Court,
Invercargill 9810,
New Zealand.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

RASNZ is actively involved promoting efficient night lighting to preserve dark skies. At the beginning of 2005 it became a signatory to the NZ Urban Design Protocol to promote the efficient and effective use of lighting and to assist in the recovery and preservation of the urban view of the night sky.

Steve Butler has developed a set of web site pages as part of the RASNZ site. Those interested in preserving our dark skies should visit the RASNZ dark sky site. The site is still undergoing development, so regular additions and changes are likely.

Education Group

Convener: Ron Fisher

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: www.astredu.nz

The Education Group are a team of educators from around New Zealand who are dedicated to supporting both students and teachers of astronomy. Our website hosts an extensive list of resources and information and we welcome contributions by way of feedback and news articles from anyone with an interest in astronomy education.

Occultation Section

Director: Steve Kerr
P O Box 2241,
New Zealand

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Web site: Occultation Section

The RASNZ Occultation Section exists to promote occultation observing within New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific.

Details of recent successful observations of occultations of stars by Minor Planets.

Lunar occultations occur when the Moon passes in front of stars or planets; planetary occultations occur when planets or minor planets (asteroids) pass in front of stars. Timing the instant at which an occultation occurs provides important information about the position of objects in space. In the case of minor planet occultations, it provides the only direct means of measuring an asteroid's diameter.

The Section provides general information and assistance to new observers. It publishes quarterly News Circulars, and a series of Circulars containing predictions of minor planet occultations. Membership of the Section is open to anyone - you do not need to be a member of the RASNZ. For further information contact the Director.

Space Weather Section

Director: Damien McNamara
16 Harlech St,
Oamaru, 9400.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Web site: Space Weather Section

The Section exists to help educate people about the Aurora Australis, our Sun and its effects on Earths atmosphere (Space Weather).

Space Weather Prediction is how we monitor our Sun and how it effects the atmosphere through its solar winds, and resulting Aurora displays, whether it be an Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere, or an Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere.

On the sections webpage you can find a number of links to live Space Weather Prediction data, from all over the world, including right here in New Zealand.

The section also has a public Facebook page where I update current alerts, and potential activity, along with solar observations, links of interest and other aurora related research.

Variable Stars South

Director: Mark Blackford (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Website: Variable Stars South

The Variable Star Section, as it was formerly known, was founded by the late Dr Frank Bateson, OBE, in 1927 and became the recognised centre for southern variable star research. Now under new direction, it is expanding vigorously into the newer technologies of CCD and DSLR cameras, even spectroscopy.

VSS invites astronomers who would like to pursue variable star research to join VSS (see website) and take part in our research projects. You do not have to be a member of the RASNZ to join VSS. We are entirely an Internet-based group, in order to foster an international presence. If you have a telescope, or binoculars, or just a naked eye, there is variable star research waiting to be done, and VSS will assist you to learn the techniques and produce scientifically valuable results.